Wachtel, Paul L. Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle between Blacks and Whites, (Routledge, New York and London: 1999)
|Stephen Hall||Race in Mind of America (Stephen Hall)|
|Christine Kilday||Race in the Mind of America (Christine Kilday)|
|Kimberly Ann Ida||Re: Race in the Mind of America (Christine Kilday)|
|Kathleen Guilfoyle||Race in the Mind of America (Kathleen Guilfoyle)|
|Amy Weseloh||Comments on Christine Kilday's Review of Race in the Mind of America|
|Steven Treonis||Comments on Christine Kilday's Review of Race in the Mind of America|
|Christine Kilday||Comments on Kathleen Guilfoyle's review of Race in the Mind of America|
|Mark Luttrell||Review of Race in the Mind of America by Mark Luttrell|
|Date:||Sun, 29 Apr 2001 22:53:51 -0500|
|Subject:||Race in Mind of America (Stephen Hall)|
Wachtel, Paul L. Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle between Blacks and Whites, (Routledge, New York and London: 1999)
Reviewed by: Stephen Hall
The economic and social problems faced by a significant proportion of African-Americans hinge on the concept of 'race' and its implementation and perpetuation. Without the connotations that we attach to the color of a person's skin, the problematic issues surrounding 'race' would cease to exist. This, however, is not the reality. The concept of 'race' is thoroughly entrenched in the minds of Americans. Paul L. Wachtel describes this situation as a circle of racial divide that we all perpetuate to the extent that it becomes self-perpetuating. Wachtel offers us a psychological perspective by scrutinizing these vicious circles in order to understand and attempt to resolve these problems. Although Wachtel claims that he is not attempting to act as a 'therapist' to society, this is exactly what he does by applying a psychological analysis. However, he recognizes that these circles are firmly based in a long history of subjugation, acknowledging that they, "virtually reek of their origins" (p.10). This is one of a number of examples of Wachtel covering his tracks in order to evade criticism of his enlightening approach.
Wachtel frames his discussion with the observation that there has been "an absence of candid exchange" about issues relating to 'race' in America (p.23). Contributing to this, he suggests, is the misuse of the terms 'racism' and 'racist'. Wachtel often shows a concern with how the use and application of language can complicate and obstruct actual progression. In place of 'racism', Wachtel offers the concepts of "otherness" and "indifference". 'Racism' actually comes from a belief that a certain group can be labeled 'other', coupled with an 'indifference' towards the harm caused by this label. Wachtel insists that the majority of white Americans are in reality guilty of "indifference, not racism", yet he notes that, "indifference in the face of severe human suffering is not a minor offense"(p.39). Furthermore, Wachtel takes pains to show that the vicious circles also depend on the attitudes and behaviors of those who are treated with 'indifference'. A culture of despair in the African-American community exists because those who have been repeatedly told they cannot make it become convinced that this is so. Therefore, the vicious circle relies on the combination of the attitudes and actions of both white and black Americans.
Indeed, Wachtel argues that the situation is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" as the perceptions held by whites are based on a truth that is the actually a product of these perceptions (p.58). As Wachtel continues to explain the circular nature of the problem, it becomes increasingly clear that we must systematically break the cycle in order to cease its continuation. The key to this, Wachtel suggests, is in the understanding that "unrelenting poverty and discrimination can generate habits of thought and behavior that bring forth further deprivation and exclusion" (p.65). This approach avoids pointing a finger of blame, as the vicious circle is self-perpetuating. However, I believe that the circle revolves around the continued rationalizations for doing nothing to help those in need. Wachtel addresses this when he critiques Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve for its "urgency to reach the conclusion that blacks are genetically inferior" (p.86). Despite this, however, he also reminds us that 'it takes two to tango'. Claude Steele's "stereotype anxiety" concept, for example, relies on both the generation of these stereotypes and the reaction and interpretation of them by the stereotyped group. Wachtel reveals that we must not only understand 'racism' exists and harms, but we must also understand its complex manifestations, in order to break the circle.
With this in mind, Wachtel examines the role that 'racism' plays in American society. It is made clear that there is an almost endless list of special burdens placed on African-Americans that obstruct their social and economic progress. These burdens, he explains, derive from the fact that "those who benefit from differential power, wealth, and opportunity have a stake in finding a way to justify that differential" (p.99). These burdens range from a "mutual anxiety" derived from expectations of difference and interpretation, to the "projection" of undesirable qualities on to the 'other'. Centrally, the concept of 'race' creates a group that can be used as scapegoats for society's problems, and this consequently places this group in a position at the heart of these problems. Wachtel admits that this is a covert, unconscious form of 'racism', yet it requires a serious awareness of this situation to avoid it continuing. "America is a racially more just society than it once was", he admits, but this is simply because the "baseline left so much room for improvement" (p.120). Furthermore, even though this 'racism' is largely unintentional, it contributes to the perpetuation of the vicious cycle by creating expectations that provoke the very reactions that they expect.
The conditions faced by African-Americans not only "take a terrible psychological toll" (p.149), but also contribute to preventing a release from the same conditions. Essentially, in order to find a solution to break this cycle, "both sides must recognize its existence" (p.141). That said, Wachtel turns his attention to offering his 'diagnosis' for this troubled society. First, he deals with the idea that black people must assimilate into white culture in order to succeed. This, he challenges, is a false concept, as it rests on the assumption that the culture is 'white', whereas, in reality, "those who are assimilating change that culture" (p.168). Following this, Wachtel outlines his vision for progress, emphasizing that "our problems form a seamless web, and so too must the solutions we fashion" (p.193). Because Wachtel approaches the situation as a circle, he realizes that we must apply a multi-layered methodology that recognizes the complex relationships between the individual problems. For example, he observes that high crime statistics in 'black' areas discourage business, obstruct education, and perpetuate prejudice, discouraging integrated housing. Using this example, it is clear to see the vicious circle in action: as African-Americans are exposed to "conditions that generate crime", that crime "contributes to perpetuating those same conditions" (p.205). In order to resolve this, Wachtel suggests that we reduce the number of harsh sentences for nonviolent crimes and advocate reform instead of imprisonment. If this is done, Wachtel believes that the African-American community will cease to extend solidarity to real criminals, and it will create more respect for the law and its enforcers. Elaborating on this, Wachtel examines how segregated neighborhoods help to contribute to the perpetuation of isolation, continuing the cycle of 'otherness' and "self-fulfilling prophecy". In order to break this cycle, Wachtel insists that we must provide jobs and enforce fair housing laws. This, he correctly observes, involves leadership, as "it is possible to "legislate morality"" (p.231).
Wachtel supports 'magnet neighborhoods', but also observes that these must be maintained by preventing subcultures from developing, and establishing community and school initiatives. Considering affirmative action, Wachtel outlines three points that need to be considered. Firstly, he acknowledges that there can be "genuinely principled opposition to affirmative action". Secondly, he again considers the limitations of language and concludes that we must "retire the term". Thirdly, he reminds us that affirmative action alone will not solve all the problems surrounding the concept of 'race'. Considering these points reminds us that affirmative action is not a single policy or idea, and places the focus on the inequalities that exist in the present. Wachtel correctly observes that "if we are completely color-blind, we are also blind to others not being so" (p.256), insinuating that simply working to correct one problem will not automatically eradicate all others. The 'Head Start' programs in schools are used to illustrate this point. Wachtel acknowledges their effectiveness, but also stresses that they must be properly funded and maintained in order for them to be truly beneficial. Wachtel's confrontation with our "troubled society" in the psychiatrist's chair is certainly an edifying departure from the uninspiring bulk of books on the issue of race in America. The concept of self-perpetuating, vicious circles avoids the unnecessary consideration of blame, victims, and guilt, directing us towards the indispensable solutions to our problems. By confronting us with the "complex and interconnecting nature" (p.283) of these problems, Wachtel succeeds in emphasizing the need for equally "complex and interconnecting" solutions. Without initiatives to prevent crime, there need be no affirmative action; without properly funded education, no desegregated neighborhoods. Without focused attention to the full complexities of these problems by both black and white Americans, there will be no solutions. And vice versa. The vicious circle that we continue to perpetuate with inappropriate solutions and adverse reactions, as much as with 'indifference', cannot be broken until we recognize how it works and fight fire with fire. As his patient is in desperate need for relief, I believe they should carefully heed Dr. Wachtel's diagnosis and prescription, his "foundations for a bridge across that gorge" (p.286).
|Date:||Sun, 06 May 2001 17:26:50 -0700|
|Subject:||Race in the Mind of America (Christine Kilday)|
Reviewed by: Christine Kilday firstname.lastname@example.org
Racism has become a term that is so overused in our society. We call people racist for things that donít necessarily make them racist. We let our stereotypes control us. Each race has misconceptions about the other, and we let that control us rather than taking control of it. We have been told time and time again that our stereotypes are true, and we donít take the time to disprove them. This puts us in the middle of a vicious circle of racism.
Paul Wachtel discusses racism from a psychoanalytical point-of-view. He describes racism as a vicious circle that we as a society can not seem to find our way out of. He wants us to realize that we need to let go of our stereotypes about each other, and start to think for ourselves. We need to stop relying on what weíve been told, and formulate our own opinions. We need to be more open-minded about other races. We need to open the lines of communication and start talking to each other. Most of all we need to stop thinking of one race as inferior to the other.
The way Wachtel discusses racism in this book is very effective. He breaks it down to a level I think anyone can understand and relate to. He makes the reader realize that everyone has stereotypes about other races no matter how trivial they may seem. However, he also makes it clear that having these stereotypes floating around in our minds does not make us all racist. Describing racism as a vicious circle makes the issues involved so much clearer. His approach is very easy to relate to, and that makes it very effective.
Wachtel uses a lot of examples in Race in the Mind of America, and while all of them are important in their own way, I will focus on the few I feel are most informative. One of the most important points that Wachtel makes is that we have come to use the term racist for too much in this country. We throw that word around like it means nothing. People have begun to call themselves racist, and are actually proud of that. It used to be that calling someone a racist was one of the worst things you could do, and now that word doesnít have the same impact. Racist is one of the most powerful words in the English language, and it should stay that way. Being called a racist is something someone should be ashamed of, not proud of. How have we managed to dilute such a powerful word that it now invokes pride instead of shame? How can anyone be proud of harboring hatred for someone based only on race? I am with Wachtel in that I will never understand how racist is no longer an offensive term to some people.
Racism cannot be blamed on one race over another. White people want to blame racism on black people, and vice versa. Whites think that blacks are too oversensitive when it comes to race, blacks think that whites still owe them something for slavery. I donít bye either one of those things. I think black people have a right to be sensitive when it comes to racial matters, but I also donít think that white people today owe black people anything for slavery. I think that itís time to stop relying on our past to define our present. I think itís time to leave slavery in the past as a horrible mistake we made. The more I type this paragraph the more I realize that Iím giving into the stereotypes Iíve been taught. I think itís time for me to let them go.
One of the biggest problems we have in race relations today is a lack of communication. Wachtel suggests that without proper communication we will never free ourselves from this vicious circle we are in. Black people and white people do not communicate well together on a whole, this a proven fact. We are so afraid to say the wrong thing that we say nothing at all. We are afraid that anything we have to say will be construed as offensive. Wachtel suggests that we have to let go of that fear. We have to learn to communicate with one another. We can never truly fix the problems between black people and white people if we donít learn to communicate openly with each other. This works both ways. We not only have to let go of our fear to say the wrong thing, but we also have to be willing to accept what each other has to say. Communication is the key, without that nothing will ever truly be fixed.
Another thing that we do notoriously in this country is blame the victim. If a black family is poor and on welfare we think it is their fault. We contribute that to being lazy, and unwilling to help themselves. We feel that parents pass these traits on to their children. Rather than taking a step back to help this people we banish them to a circle of poverty that they may never get out of. We write them off as the have-nots of society, because after all it is their fault. Wachtel also looks at this as a culture of poverty. He contends, however, that a culture of poverty does not necessarily entail blaming the victim. This means that poor, predominately black neighborhoods offer less and inferior educational opportunities. Children from these neighborhoods will drop out of school, and have low-paying jobs, if any. These children will grow up to raise their children in the same neighborhood, thus creating a non-ending vicious circle. According to sociologist Douglas Glasgow, this leads to a frame of thought in which whites think they are inherently superior to blacks, and this justifies their continued preferential treatment. Wachtel also looks at the flip side of this argument in which opponents suggest that people use the culture of poverty as an excuse to do nothing about their situation. Wachtel feels that in some cases the poor do demonstrate so called ďmiddle-classĒ values, but they live very different lives.
One area that plays an especially important role in the culture of poverty is educational opportunities. Children in low-income neighborhoods have less, and unequal educational opportunities. This leads to a discussion of I.Q. Wachtel refutes evidence in the argument for the Bell Curve. The Bell Curve argument suggests that I.Q. is determined entirely by genetics, and social factors do not play a part. Wachtel tends to feel that there is a correlation between SES and I.Q. In low-income neighborhoods the schools are far inferior to those in middle-class neighborhoods. They have less qualified teachers, who tend to not care if their students graduate. Their standards are set far lower than the standards in middle-class schools. Students are expected to fail rather than exceed. This means that failure is norm rather than the exception. This leads to students not caring about school. Wachtel suggest that even if two people are genetically equal, but one lives in a low-income neighborhood, and the other lives in a middle-class neighborhood there will be a variation in I.Q. They are raised in completely different settings, one that expects failure and the other that expects success. This will undoubtedly effect a childís I.Q.
Racism is complicated issue, and we have not successfully found a way to stop it. Wachtel feels that every issue involved in racism has to be worked on together in order to find a solution. I donít know how likely this is, as nice as it may sound. I donít see our communication problems going away anytime soon. I also donít see people being able to break out of the circle of poverty as long as we continue to write them off. We need to take an interest in the education given to students in low-income neighborhoods, as well as the interest we already take in students living in middle-class neighborhoods. Failure must become the exception rather than the norm. I donít see our current president caring enough to take a stand for these kids. There are so many things that need to change in order to find a solution. I just donít see that happening in my lifetime.
One thing I know for sure is that I would never be proud of someone calling me a racist. I would look at myself, and wonder what I had done wrong. One of my best friends is a black guy, but I donít look at him as my black friend. I look at him the same I do my white friends. Heís one of the people closest to me in this world, and I can talk to him about anything. We donít have communication problems; we talk to each other like two human beings. Maybe its time we stopped seeing everything in black and white.
|104 W. Locust #3|
|Normal, IL. 61761|
|Date:||Thu, 10 May 2001 09:30:33 -0500|
|From:||Kimberly Ann Ida
|Subject:||Re: Race in the Mind of America (Christine Kilday)|
First of all, I agree with Watchel, that racism has become a term that has come to be used way to often in a way to careless manner. The term racism is being used to much to represent views that seem to be very stereotypical. People need to watch the way the use words like racism and make sure that they use it for the proper meanings.
Stereotypes seem to be a major reason to Watchel as to why racism is so prevelant. Letting go of the stereotypes will help lose the idea of racism that so many people over use. Even though people have stereotypes it doesn't make them racist. I agree with this in that people have stereotypes about so many different groups of people. There are people who have stereotypes of a fraternity guy or a sorority girl, and because of the stereotype that a person may hold about this group, doesn't make them racist to the group. Stereotypes seem to portray ignorance. This ignorance is not a bad ignorance but it is the true meaning of the word. People jump to conclusions about certain groups before really getting to know what they are all about.
Christine, I think you did a great job on this book review you gave a good amount of information, I felt like I read the book myself. At 05:26 PM 5/6/2001 -0700, you wrote:
>Wachtel, Paul L. Race in the Mind of America: >Breaking the Vicious Circle between Blacks and Whites, >(Routledge, Great Britain, 1999). > >Reviewed by: Christine Kilday email@example.com > >Racism has become a term that is so overused in our >society. We call people racist for things that don't .....
Back to top...
|Date:||Wed, 25 Apr 2001 14:26:55 -0500|
|Subject:||Race in the Mind of America (Kathleen Guilfoyle)|
Wachtel, Paul L. Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the vicious circle between blacks and whites, (Routledge, Great Britain, 1999).
Reviewed by: Kathleen Guilfoyle
Relations between the races generally contain some tension or conflict, which in turn leads to negative feelings and, at its worst, racism. Struggles between the black and white communities in the United States is a major area of concern, and as Wachtel suggests, it is a vicioius circle that continues throughout one's life and through different generations. He points out in Race in the Mind of America that everyone is to blame, not just one race, and there is no overriding cause to the problem, but a combination of many factors. When people focus on blaming one group and focusing in on only one aspect of the problem, then dead-ends are hit and the vicious circles continue to thrive. Wachtel attempts to cover every angle of the problem by examining the different theories people have regarding the race problems, as well as looking at all of the different factors playing a role in the conflict between the races in order to demonstrate that all areas need to be worked on together to stop the cycle. He also gives both sides of the arguments he examines, which allows him to cover his tracks very well and present a very thoughtful and persuading analysis of race relations.
The use of a psychological analysis strengthens Wachtel's book because it allows the reader to relate and understand exactly what point he is trying to get across. When he uses examples, they are easy to understand, either because the reader engages in certain actions or thought processes presented, or the reader has seen others doing them. The term racism is problematic to Wachtel, because in recent years, it has been thrown around and used to describe a variety of behaviors and attitudes that may or may not constitute true racism. A term that is more appropriate is "otherness", the feeling that there is a "they" and an "us", and can therefore contribute to stereotypes, prejudices, and other negative experiences. In addition to the "otherness" is indifference, which is a substantial threat to the relations of blacks and whites. Whites may not show any reaction to the problems blacks are encountering, which is essentially denying there is something wrong, and perhaps leads to worse consequences than outward racism.
Blaming the victim is an ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives. Liberals tend to believe the socioeconomic realm, including education, medical care, crime, etc. are the reason and the answer to solving some of the disparity between blacks and whites. Because of the different problems blacks tend to run into when they are poverty stricken, uneducated, unemployed, etc., they become stuck in this cycle and have no way to raise themselves out. This supports Wachtel's argument for the vicious cycles that occur, but the conservatives, specifically looking to the Moynihan Report, make an argument that puts more emphasis on the faults of the impoverished blacks, not social factors. The Report raised a lot of controversy because it attributed problems of the poor blacks to an unsuccessful family structure due to slavery and oppression suffered years before. A circle is described in this analysis as well, however, it blames the family and suggests the young are taught weaknesses of the family structure, thus allowing the pattern to continue. Others who supported the Report claimed it would help in overcoming racial problems by showing that reliance on social programs is not enough nor the only answer.
Wachtel looks to differing cultures, between blacks and whites, as another reason racial problems persist. Once a group has shared cultural experiences, it is hard to change what people are accustomed to. Some people refer to this as the "culture of poverty", in which a poor neighborhood has less educational opportunities, and therefore the children don't finish school or get jobs, they stay in the neighborhood only to raise their own kids who follow in the same footsteps. An analysis such as this, according to Douglas Glasgow, may encourage whites to think blacks are inferior and unworthy to receive equal treatment and opportunities. Wachtel comments that this concept is important, however, there are more complexities to the issue than the poverty circle. Wachtel suggests opponents of the culture of poverty argument use it as an excuse to do nothing about the problem because they believe children acquire self-defeating attitudes from their parents at a young age, and then have no way of doing anything to combat their negative situation. Questions arise as to whether or not the poor have different values, or if it is just a matter of circumstance. This question is one that people will probably never agree on, but Wachtel suggests there is evidence the poor sometimes demonstrate some of the sought after "middle-class" values, but it must be remembered that their lives are very different, so decisions are made based on the situations they are experiencing.
Debate is always on the frontline when the discussion of I.Q. is brought up. The Bell Curve was a book that says intelligence is determined by genetics and social determinants do not play a role. The authors of The Bell Curve did not blame the poor, but rather blamed their inferior DNA. Wachtel points out the correlation between SES and I.Q. This evidence appears to counter The Bell Curve argument, but the authors apparently did not say SES has no role in I.Q differences, but is not significant when compared to genetics. In addition, the lower SES is due to inferior genetics, and therefore these people end up lower on the socioeconomic scale. Wachtel helps to counter this explanation by showing that other factors play a role in differences, because if a middle-class black is forced to live in a lower income neighborhood, then their children have less educational opportunities, are around children who do not care about school, and are exposed to other factors blacks with low SES are exposed, which keeps them down. In addition, even if people are genetically equal, if the environments are extremely different from one another (one with good potential for growth and the other, opposite) then this difference can account for variations in I.Q.'s.
The reason racism happens and if it will always be in our society is a question many are trying to resolve. Psychological processes, whether conscious or not, often support the belief that racism will never go away. Racism can occur in a "dominative" or "aversive" manner. Wachtel uses Kovel's analysis to show that people are racist for different reasons and often have psychological motives behind them. Dominative people will outwardly be violent, whereas aversive types ignore and keep themselves distanced from the interaction. There is also the belief that people are racist because they always need to have someone below them in order to make themselves feel better. People also need to take their frustrations and problems out on something or someone else, and racism may be this outlet. Another psychological theory is that some people are more prone to be racist because of their personalities. If a person is very authoritarian, then tolerance for those who are different is very hard for them. They may feel others need to follow the rules because they, personally, follow the rules, and if others do not, then prejudices are likely to occur.
The psychological evaluation of race suggests there is something in each of use that could cause us to be racist. On the other hand, the cognitive thinkers look more toward stereotypes and thought processes to look at racism. Misperceptions and misunderstandings often contribute to racism, prejudice, and stereotypes. Both blacks and whites are to blame because the vicious circle allows each group to maintain misperceptions about the other, preventing the truth to come to the surface. Wachtel uses an example from the New York Times that tells a story of a black man who became so frustrated and angry by whites who appeared afraid of him on the streets, that he began to purposely act in ways that appeared threatening in order to play with their minds. This shows the beginning of a circle that will be hard to put an end to - the whites have misperceptions about blacks, which leads to the blacks becoming angry and acting in ways to confirm white misperceptions. Wachtel makes a point that if the cycle is to be broken, blacks have to do their part to prevent the whites from maintaining their misperceptions.
Another major problem blacks, especially the poor, have in society are the social problems that come along with living in a ghetto, having more crime in the area, being unemployed and uneducated, etc. However, many black children will have pressure to maintain the status quo from peers to not excel in school or leave the ghetto because they would be "acting white." This kind of thinking keeps the circle going and generation after generation will be stuck in the ghetto. Also, the thought of assimilation causes conflict for many blacks. If no assimilation takes place, there are the same divisions that keep poor blacks in bad neighborhoods and whites typically in middle-class ones. The same problem arises for those blacks who try to assimilate for school or work, only to have other blacks accuse them of "selling out." Assimilation is a word that means many things, though, and many blacks believe it to mean becoming white and giving up everything they know, not realizing their culture can be kept at the same time as they are striving to be a part of the American culture. An issue that receives negative reactions from whites is the black language (Ebonics). If this is the only language blacks use, then they are often looked at as less intelligent, therefore making getting a job and assimilation harder.
Crime is an issue many people feel will help allieviate some of the divisions between races if dealt with successfully. It is hard to tell, though, if crime is a result of the poor socioeconomic conditions, or if crime causes them. This is one reason Wachtel believes all factors that are believed to contribute to the problem must be worked on together. An example of how factors are interrelated is the frightening statistic of murder being the number one cause of death among black males. Wachtel suggests since many of these black males in the ghetto think they will die young, they live moment to moment, do not plan for the future or care about education and jobs, and therefore remain there if they survive. There are also many poor blacks who do not get involved in any kind of crime, but must live in horrible areas because of their low incomes. Crime is all around them and they become victims themselves, or become violent in order to protect themselves. Crime also causes another circle with regard to the police. Blacks may have a bad experience with police due to the police being scared, become hostile to police, police have to act differently when patrolling these neighborhoods, and therefore hostility remains and police continue to use measures they would not use in middle-class white neighborhoods.
Wachtel covers all the ground on different factors of racism. He presents both sides very well and gives wonderful examples to illustrate each argument's case. He does offer solutions, but they are not very specific. His book is more of an analysis of the problem and its causes than a proposal for solving it. By Wachtel's analysis, though, a breakthrough is made since a solution to a problem cannot come without an understanding and thoughtful analysis of the problem. His main point is to attack the problem from all sides and realize these vicious circles persist if all sides are not dealt with.
Becoming tough on crime is an example of one of his solutions, which I found to be a good one. Small crime leads to bigger crime, and if this is not dealt with, then serious crimes will prevail. Also, his belief that petty crimes should be dealt with through therapy and county jails rather than lengthy prison sentences is a good thought. Petty crimes should be not be punishable through prisons, but through other methods since people often come out of prison worse than when they went in. Decriminalizing crimes, though, should not be a priority because of the problem that small crimes lead to other crimes. All crimes should be punishable, but just sticking a prison sentence on someone is not the way to handle it. Drugs are, perhaps, not a serious crime, but it is often the involvement with drugs that leads to other, more serious crimes due to intoxications, dealers, and the money involved.
It is very difficult to write a short, concise review of Wachtel's book because it incorporates so many issues and ideas into 300 pages. A review could be done on almost every chapter because his analysis of the issues are so thoughtful and well presented. This book changes the way race relations are looked at because he does not try to slant the reader one way or another, even though his beliefs are apparent. Many different issues are brought up, and once the reader believes he/she has gotten a good explanation of why racism and vicious cycles exist, another chapter highlights completely different theories and beliefs that make the reader realize how huge the problem is and how there are endless reasons why racism and relations between blacks and whites are stressed. ∑
Back to top...
|Date:||Tue, 08 May 2001 11:31:04 -0500|
|Subject:||Comments on Christine Kilday's Review of Race in the Mind of America|
I agree with Christine Kilday that the term racism has become overused. Calling someone a racist is seen as a trump card. This is an unfortunate situation, not for the sake of those who are accused of being racist; some of them in fact are. The result of this situation is that the impact of the term racism has been diminished. Charges of racism are met with doubt and suspicion. The use of the term racism calls into question the motives behind the accusers, rather than repulsion against the actions that led to the charge in the first place.
Christine Kilday's discussion of stereotypes is interesting. It is probably true that everyone has stereotypes about other races, and I agree with Wachtel that this does not necessarily make everybody a racist. I think that grouping objects and people into classes is a normal part of how the human mind works. Many times this is done based on appearance. The difference between a racist and a non-racist is not in the existence of these stereotypes, but in how the individual chooses to deal with them. A person whose stereotypes about other races are almost exclusively negative, and who does not make the effort to educate herself about whether those stereotypes are based in fact or not is probably in fact a racist. The stereotypes dictate the perception of each individual member of another race. The non-racist sees those stereotypes for what they are, and realizes that many of them are based not on direct observation of other races, but on cultural and media categorization and typecasting. This person will examine those stereotypes in light of her or his own experiences with other races, and eventually those stereotypes will diminish.
It is also true that communication is important in the fight against racism. Unfortunately, the overuse of the term racism has led to an environment where many people are afraid that their words will be taken offensively. This, too, is an unfortunate situation. This environment does not foster the communication necessary to combat racism. For fear of being accused of being racist, many people remain silent. This silence has led to growing tension between whites and blacks, which in turn leads to increased resentment. To combat racism and its effects, all points of view must be heard and analyzed on their merits.
The culture of poverty is also a hindrance to progress in racial equality. It is a self-perpetuating system that also perpetuates the notions of racial stereotypes and inferiority. Because of the lack of educational and job opportunities in poorer areas, these areas, many of which are inhabited predominantly by minorities, remain poor. This strengthens ideas of superiority in whites and leads to a defeatist attitude on the part of those living in the culture of poverty.
We have come a long way in race relations over the last several decades, but Wachtel's book and Kilday's review show that we still have very far to go. Dealing with racism is a very large and complicated undertaking, but if we all do our part to educate others and communicate with each other, then perhaps one day these problems will be a thing of the past.
Back to top...
|Date:||Tue, 08 May 2001 14:58:16 -0500|
|Subject:||Comments on Christine Kilday's Review of Race in the Mind of America|
For the most part, I enjoyed your review of Wachtel's book. I agree that "racist" has become an overused term, but question whether or not people are actually proud to be called racist. Someone who may be a member of a hate group or is just under-educated may be proud of the fact that they are deemed racist. However, I think that this is the exception rather than the norm. You also mention that you think the term "racist" has been diluted by our society. "How have we managed to dilute such a powerful word that it now invokes pride instead of shame?" Personally, I think that it is still a powerful word. If you were to be labeled as racist, would be able to just shrug it off, or would you have a difficult time coping with it? I know that I would have problems with it.
I agree that communication is the key to getting beyond race in our country. I am firmly against any form of reparations. Money is not the answer because it will not solve any problems. It will only create a temporary band-aid at best. I also agree that we need to look at the education of low-income neighborhoods. It plays a huge role in the culture of poverty. Yet, I do not think that poor education is why students drop-out of school. I think that it has more to do with laziness and lack of family values. We've all heard numerous stories where kids who grow up in low-income neighborhoods work hard and make something out of their life. You're right in that failure should be the exception, rather than the rule. Whether or not you think our current president is going to take a stand for these kids is another issue.
Back to top...
|Date:||Mon, 07 May 2001 18:11:24 -0700 (PDT)|
|Subject:||Comments on Kathleen Guilfoyle's review of Race in the Mind of America|
Racism is a problem that we clearly cannot fix easily. It is a complex problem with even more complex solutions. Having also read Paul Wachtel's Race in the Mind of America, I agree with Kathleen's points. Wachtel does a great job describing racism as a vicious circle.
Kathleen, I think you made great points, all of which I agree with. You did a very good summarizing Wachtel's points. There was only thing I thought should be mentioned in more detail. You kind of skimmed over the communication issue, I think it was essential to Wachtel's points. We as a society need to learn to communicate better with each other. We cannot be afraid to speak to someone of another race for fear we would say the wrong thing. A solution to racism will never be found without communication. It is clearly essential.
|104 W. Locust #3|
|Normal, IL. 61761|
|Date:||Tue, 08 May 2001 16:50:51 -0500|
|Subject:||Review of Race in the Mind of America by Mark Luttrell|
Wachtel says that we are at an impasse in this country concerning race. People are scared of each other, racism is still prevalent, and nothing is being done to get rid of racism. He says views that blacks and whites hold of each other are full of stereotypes and generalizations. In general, I think Wachtel breaks all stereo types down into two classes, those that think black people will make it in society and those who say they won't. There are two problems behind these stereotypes. The first is that many people agree that racism is the chief obstacle to black advancement, the second is that blacks and whites see each others as the problem and blame each other for the problems that racism brings.
Wachtel also talks about racism in terms of vicious circles. There are numerous examples of these "vicious circles" given throughout the book. Let me explain one of the examples here. A person who fears being seen as taking advantage of others will be excessively nice, the point of not getting a fair share in deals. The person is so nice that they don't mind not getting what they really want, but the underlying result is frustration. But since that feeling is unacceptable, that feeling is also suppressed, and no aggressive behavior is expressed. Further efforts to be nice, even when not really wanting to will result in further frustration and smoldering resentment until something snaps. The problem with these vicious circles is that you cannot tell where they start and where they end? You have to think of this in terms of racism, where did it start and where will it (hopefully) end?
Talking about racism is what Wachtel considers very important. He says that people are racist in their conversations sometimes without even realizing it. It isn't just making blatant racist comments and using racist insults that are racist, it is much deeper, and perhaps even psychological. For example, when someone says "he speaks so clearly for a black man", that in itself can be considered racist. What does that say about other black men and what does that say about that individuals perception of other black men? Furthermore, people are having trouble talking about race because they are scared of saying something that will offend someone. By being scared to speak openly, we will remain at this racial impasse for an indefinite amount of time. The last problem I will mention that Wachtel brought up is his opinion of people who use the word "racist". Wachtel says that people are all too often called racist and people are accused of being racist only when they are trying to have an open conversation about race. Was John Rocker being a racist when he made his comments to Sports Illustrated? Was he being racist when in an attempt to prove he was not racist said "I'm not racist, I have black friends"? Or was he racist in both occasions? Those questions are open to debate.
Wachtel also talks the practice of blaming the victim he has seen occur in the United States. This is when people have an attitude like, "you can't solve the problem by throwing money at it" or "people who are poor are lazy don't even really want to work". These are stereotypes that are untrue and only lead to conditions for the poor not getting better. Blaming the victim is often done through crime statistics. Sometimes, people will point to the number of crimes in an urban area and use that as an excuse that things will not get better. I don't think anyone who is poor and has to commit acts of crime to get by likes being in the situation they are in. I once heard someone say on the tv show COPS, "my homie got robbed so he went and robbed somebody else, it's never gonna stop" when he was asked why his friend robbed someone else on the street. That would be an example of a vicious circle of crime in an urban community. Finally, when people are accused of "acting white" this contributes to a possible justification for people who blame the victim. If, going to school and succeeding in life through means other than music or sports is a bad thing, than blacks may not make it out of their communities because so few people do make it in those fields. Wachtel says there is a debate over culture in this country which is leading us nowhere at the current rate.
The first problem begins with white people and is another stereotype of blacks that they are all poor and live in ghettos. Well, the majority of poor people are not black, and the majority of blacks are not poor. Wachtel says that many white people see blacks as a people who are just meant to be poor. Wachtel asks the question that regardless of the situation black people are in, why do white people so often consider the benchmark to be white middle class families? He says that we can appreciate urban culture rather than try to make urban culture white. This is something that I do not think anyone would disagree with today, is that urban culture is here to stay. All genres of the entertainment industry are influenced by blacks now including music, movies, art, theater, others. Non-entertainment industries are also being influenced. Look at commercials for example. You have Shaq selling Nestle Crunch candy bars, Kobe Bryant selling Adidas clothes, Sisqo selling Pepsi, and these are but a few examples. Look at popualr clothing now. You have FUBU, Sean John, Rocawear, and the upcoming J-Lo lines of clothes that are taking over not only the urban scene, but also parts of white America.
One solution Wachtel provides is that blacks can assimilate to white culture. This is the idea that black people will somehow give up who they are, and basically act white in an attempt to become successful. This would be something that Wachtel says black people would say is being a traitor and a form of self-deception. Wachtel says that these views of assimilation are inaccurate because it presupposes the fact that society is white. If society was white, there would not be social welfare dependant white families. Further, Wachtel says blacks don't need to assimilate because no other culture he says has ever had the influence on this country that the black people have.
Another solution Wachtel says is separatism. This begins with the notion that blacks understand blacks better than whites ever will and need to be with each other. Wachtel says that black solidarity has been known of for years and has been described in books and other media in examples of how they stick together. Two passages were give in regard to black solidarity and separatism. The first passage was from Kenneth Clark's book Dark Ghetto and said that blacks need to be in ghettos because they are amongst themselves and will not be rejected the way they would be in an integrated white society. The second passage was from Massey and Denton's book American Apartheid. It stated basically that blacks will act different than whites because of historic injustices to them, and now being seen as white is being seen as something along the lines as someone who has traditionally supported injustices against blacks.
Wachtel says that the government could also be doing substantially more than what they are to solve some racial problems. As far as education is concerned, throwing money at the problem will not fix it. However, building good schools, and hiring good teachers can't hurt. Schools should be made safe, and should be a learning environment, not just somewhere for kids to hang out during the day. Urban kids need to be broken free of their chains that are holding them back from fully applying themselves at school. This would also involve a changing of the mentality that success through school is the white way out.
A changing of the way poor children is also a suggestion. Mothers who were poor were proven to be overly aggressive when disciplining their child. They use reasoning less, and use force more often and these reasons can promote a sense that might is right among children. Lower-class parents are more likely to give orders without reasons or justifications, are less likely to consult the child, and are unlikely to praise the child when desirable behavior is shown. Wachtel says the result of all this is that the child will grow up to be in poverty and deprivation due to early maladjustment. It 's a vicious circle. ∑
Back to top...